18 January 2024

Grow Your Own DMs

Travelling home for Christmas I read old notes and fished out a thoughts we had at a rare non-gaming gathering of our local games soc - one theme was we need to help people start DM'ing.

There is broader chatter about a DM crisis but for us specifically we have been seeing all these people turn up in the forums going ‘hey, I’d love to do more gaming’ and if we can do one or two things to show them “DMing is not that hard! just go for it!” then I think that will be great in the long run.

An open campaign call was 3x over subscribed, the DM did some test sessions to pick out the best fit players - still left a bunch of players who would have been on to play something without a DM. Similiarly we have often had the usual cohort of DM's at our regular Friday night open table games run something last minute when they came to game because we don’t have enough DMs.

We could live without more DMs, sure but but it would be great to sew the seeds of a new crop of DMs when we don’t need them so they are there when we want to step back, people move, get sick, whatever.

Thoughts we had to try and get people relaxed to take the first leap:
1. Create a list of available adventures we would recommend for one-shots
2. "Open Hand DM'in" where you talk through why you are doing as you play
3. "New DM support" where some old hands join a new DMs table explicitly to back them up
4. DM workshops - talking theory and lessons learned outside the games

For the first, there is allegedly a list of recommended adventurers league adventures somewhere on the forum and I am going to try and unearthing that old roster for newbies (or old guard) to know which are the ones worth running e.g. Wolves of Welton, Wild Sheep Chase, Pudding Faire.

"DM with Open Cards” table - where a DM plays a scenario while telling the players / potential new DMs, why certain stuff has been done and why. This has met great interest and as well as being done as dedicated sessions outside our usual gatherings, some folk are being a DM-intern sitting in beside the DM just to watch from behind the curtain for a session. We have had great response from different DM's among the group - ones who are NPC focussed, ones who are combat focussed - to the point that I can see some of us old hands taking up the opportunity to listen in on some of these ourselves.

"Declare a new DM table" - where people can ask for some veterans to join and support them running the first time. I will be doing one of these myself next sessions I go to - someone that has sat to a bunch of my tables and I was honestly surprised to hear had never DM'ed before so I am sure it will be a blast. This is pretty much just the starting-out version of what I would do myself in that I would look to seed a table with at least one friendly face if I'm setting off to do something new (location or open table wise).

DM’ing workshops to get more new DM’s started hitting topics like ‘combat made easy’ and ‘improv need not be intimidating’ - these being shorter times outside of the regular gaming meetups with a bit more prep and theory focus. Some folk wrote up a bunch of stuff on the forums a while back but nothing beats in person talks. I am going to do a session pitched as how I prep a written adventure for our Friday night games though really I am prepared for that to be a more general Q&A session.

If we can get even a half dozen folk to set up their DM screens as part of our regular cohort, that will be a great success. What we will do for chairs and finding space in our venues is a problem for another day.


  1. How long has this current GM Crisis been going now? 50 years?

    I think the best way to get new people into gamemastering would be to have a simple setting with few moving parts, where you can just focus on running the game without having to do a lot of work with computing the actions.

    Having to master the game rules before you can start to run a game always seems like the biggest barrier to entry to me.

    1. Difference from when I started (90s) was lots of folk played different systems, high tolerance for 'getting it wrong' and players in demand for tables.

      Listening to what folk are talking about when we've been discussing how to help people start DM it is not the rule set but the juggling of tasks behind the screen, the 'soft skills' like improvising when the players go off prep, that sort of thing.

      I wonder is it because there is more of a body of best practices and "do nots" these days so people feel there is a standard they must meet? I certainly felt no such compunction back in the day - it was just Heroquest but you could go anywhere...